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Women of Means: The Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls (Bios of Royalty and Rich & Famous)
Women of Means: The Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls (Bios of Royalty and Rich & Famous)
Women of Means: The Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls (Bios of Royalty and Rich & Famous)
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Women of Means: The Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls (Bios of Royalty and Rich & Famous)

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Heiresses have always been viewed with eyes of envy: they were the ones for whom the cornucopia had been upended, showering them with unimaginable wealth and opportunity. However, oftentimes the weaving sisters saved their most heart-wrenching tapestries for their destinies. The public has always been riveted by these larger than life ladies: as eye witnesses to live theater, for schadenfreude, for foray into irony.

Criteria for inclusion entails birth or nuptials as the recipient of ‘the lucky sperm club’ the recipients of a many-splendored bank account. Christina Onassis: The oxymoron ‘poor little rich girl’ existed prior to heiress Christina Onassis, but she was its ill-starred embodiment. Her life was woven with the thread of Greek tragedy: she lost her entire family in the span of two years and her four husbands brought only heartache. She passed away at age thirty-seven in Argentina: her heart which had been abused and broken, finally gave out. She was interred in the family’s private island of Skorpios, beside her brother and father, whose term of affection for his daughter was “chryso mou” “my gold.”
Release dateSep 15, 2019
Women of Means: The Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics and Other Poor Little Rich Girls (Bios of Royalty and Rich & Famous)
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Marlene Wagman-Geller

Marlene Wagman-Geller is the author of several phenomenal books, including Fabulous Female Firsts, Women Who Launch, Once Again to Zelda, Behind Every Great Man, Still I Rise, Great Second Acts, and Women of Means. Her books have been reviewed by The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post. Wagman-Geller received her BA from York University and her teaching credentials from the University of Toronto and San Diego State University. She currently teaches high school English in National City, California, and lives with her family-along with cat Moe and dog Harley-in San Diego.

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    Praise for Women of Means

    If you’ve ever wished you had all the money in the world, read Women of Means by Marlene Wagman-Geller. Written in her usual witty prose, these enthralling but petrifying mini-biographies show that when a woman is too wealthy, it can be a curse rather than a blessing.

    —Jill G. Hall, author of The Black Velvet Coat

    "Does money facilitate happiness, fulfillment, the good life? How much time do we all spend wishing we had more of it? These questions and more bubble up from Marlene Wagman-Geller’s crisp, exacting prose in her powerful compilation of stories about the richest women in history.

    Wagman-Geller’s stories made me gasp and lodged my chin firmly on my chest as she chronicled the lives of women without a financial care in the world, whose appetites led so often to disaster. And, no, Patrizia, I would rather gleefully ride the bicycle!"

    —R. D. Kardon, author of Flygirl

    The best women’s history books are deeply researched and, therefore, filled with personal details that provide an intimate portrait. Marlene Wagman-Geller’s Women of Means does not disappoint. It is wild and witty, gossipy, and glamourous. A sheer delight. I could not get enough of reading about heiress Barbara Hutton’s outrageous lifestyle, Jackie O as a stepmom, Patty Hearst’s many adventures, Peggy Guggehein’s collection of art (and men) and Almira Carnarvon, the real-life counterpart to Lady Cora of Downton Abbey. Simply splendid.

    —Becca Anderson, author of Badass Women Give the Best Advice

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    Marlene Wagman-Geller

    Great Second Acts: In Praise of Older Women

    Women Who Launch: Women Who Shattered Glass Ceilings

    Still I Rise: The Persistence of Phenomenal Women

    Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous

    And the Rest Is History: The Famous (and Infamous) First Meetings of the World’s Most Passionate Couples

    Eureka! The Surprising Stories Behind the Ideas That Shaped the World

    Once Again to Zelda: The Stories Behind Literature’s Most Intriguing Dedications

    Women of Means

    Fascinating Biographies of Royals,

    Heiresses, Eccentrics, and Other Poor Little Rich Girls

    Marlene Wagman-Geller

    Coral Gables

    Copyright © 2019 by Marlene Wagman-Geller

    Published by Mango Publishing Group, a division of Mango Media Inc.

    Cover Design: Jayoung Hong

    Layout & Design: Jayoung Hong

    Cover Photo: Highclere Castle Archive

    Every reasonable effort has been made to contact the copyright holders,

    but if there are any errors or omissions, Hodder & Stoughton will be pleased to insert the appropriate acknowledgement in any subsequent printing of this publication.

    Mango is an active supporter of authors’ rights to free speech and artistic expression in their books. The purpose of copyright is to encourage authors to produce exceptional works that enrich our culture and our open society.

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    Mango Publishing Group

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    Coral Gables, FL 33134 USA


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    Women of Means: Fascinating Biographies of Royals, Heiresses, Eccentrics,

    and Other Poor Little Rich Girls

    Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication number: 2019935672

    ISBN: (p) 978-1-64250-017-2 (e) 978-1-64250-018-9

    BISAC category code: BIO013000 BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY

    / Rich & Famous

    Printed in the United States of America

    To my women of spiritual means—in memory of my mother, Gilda Wagman, and my daughter, Jordanna Shyloh Geller.

    I hate almost all rich people, but I think I’d be darling at it.

    —Dorothy Parker (1893–1967)

    Table of Contents



    A Rocky Ride

    Chapter 1

    Did I Make the Most of Loving You? (1876)

    Chapter 2

    The Golden Lion (1896)

    Chapter 3

    All the Difference (1898)

    Chapter 4

    Indian Summer (1901)

    Chapter 5

    What Profit a Man? (1902)

    Chapter 6

    The Porcelain Faces (1906)

    Chapter 7

    King Midas’s Granddaughter (1912)

    Chapter 8

    Lucky Strike (1912)

    Chapter 9

    Round Midnight (1913)

    Chapter 10

    She and Trouble (1920)

    Chapter 11

    Was It Worth It? (1922)

    Chapter 12

    The Beautiful and the Damned (1922)

    Chapter 13

    The Swan Princess (1924)

    Chapter 14

    Prince Charming (1931)

    Chapter 15

    Amazing Grace (1937)

    Chapter 16

    The Wounding Thorns (1938)

    Chapter 17

    A Facial Attraction (1940)

    Chapter 18

    The Book of Ruth (1941)

    Chapter 19

    The Comedy Is Over (1948)

    Chapter 20

    My Gold (1950)

    Chapter 21

    Rosebud (1954)

    Chapter 22

    The House of Hancock (1954)

    Chapter 23

    The Alchemist (1962)

    Chapter 24

    The Death of the Hired Hand (1962)

    Chapter 25

    Protects What’s Good (1964)

    Chapter 26

    Googoosha (1972)

    Chapter 27

    No More Tears (1979)

    Chapter 28

    Flowers in Their Attic (1997)



    Richard Cory (1897)


    About the Author


    Okay, let’s get this part out of the way first: If I had been born into an enormous fortune, I would have been generous, as well as cautious about marriage and other personal entanglements. My purchases would not have been ostentatious, and I would not have been arrogant. And, of course, that is exactly how you would act. In short, we would not behave as did the twenty-eight subjects of Wagman’s collection. What connects them are the excesses and eccentricities that result when enormous wealth meets immaturity.

    In A Delicate Balance, Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning play of 1967, Agnes laments that as men age, they are eventually obsessed with money and death—making ends meet until they meet the end.¹ The women in these pages could not escape death—many died young, and most died in abject conditions—but for most of their lives, they did not have to be concerned with making ends meet. But if people of wealth are to be content, they have to have ends to be served by their means, and they must be as deliberate as those who are slowed and matured by financial concerns. The actions of the women you are going to meet in Women of Means were flagrant, and eventually desperate, but never deliberate.

    Will Rogers said about people playing the ukulele, Not even a trained musician can tell if [they’re] playing on it or just monkeying with it.² Most of the Women of Means monkeyed with life, filling it, as Wagman says, with champagne and bile. It’s a bitter mix, and these women were, for the most part, a bitter lot. After all, they were victims. Having much often makes one want more, so they were victims of their own greed. Most of them grew up sheltered from the vagaries of life and the teaching power of poverty, so they were victimized by the greed of others. They were victims of their bad decisions, the majority of which seemed to center around their spectacularly destructive choices of sexual partners and husbands, as well as some catastrophic parenting. Money makes plain people attractive, and attractive people irresistible, and there were plenty of people willing to cheat, threaten, or seduce them into opening their hearts, their bank accounts, and the doors to their boudoirs.

    As Wagman’s stories gives us a look inside their hearts and wealth (and their boudoirs), we experience schadenfreude—the pleasure of vicariously experiencing the misfortune of others—but that is not the only gift Wagman and her women bestow. All of us have the same size hearts as they did, even those living paycheck to paycheck. We are all—even men (or perhaps especially men)—quite capable of falling victim to hubris. The mysterious lover Cressida in Shakespeare’s tragedy lays the blame on women’s lust:

    Ah, poor our sex! This fault in us I find,

    The error of our eye doth direct our mind:

    What error leads must err. O, then conclude

    Minds swayed by eyes are full of turpitude.³

    In response, the wise slave Thersites translates her speech as, My mind is now turn’d whore.

    And perhaps it is there—at the intersection of privilege and pain—that we should meet the Women of Means.

    Ben Cassel

    Yucca Valley, California

    March 2019

    1 Albee, Edward. A Delicate Balance: A Play. New York: Athenaeum, 1966.

    2 Gragert, Steven K. and M. Jane Johansson. The Papers of Will Rogers, Volume IV: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.

    3 Shakespeare, William. Troilus and Cressida, V:2, lines 131–134.

    4 Ibid, line 136.


    A Rocky Ride

    Let me tell you about the rich. They are different from you and me.

    —F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The oxymoron poor little rich girl strikes a discordant note; how could the possessors of wealth be designated by an adjective denoting pity? An abundance of green allows one to purchase pleasure dome domiciles, cars with exotic logos, jewels that seduce. Equally magical, money provides freedom to spend one’s days pursuing a passion rather than a paycheck. The possessors of deep pockets are not reduced to taking their change to Coinstar while salivating for payday. The Dollar Store is not the only place they can purchase whatever catches their eye; a daily ritual is not borrowing from Peter to give to Paul.

    The contemporary crop of heiresses—those whose lives are a magical mystery tour—provide fodder for the paparazzi; the public’s hunger is insatiable for those removed from the plane of the rest of us. One leader of the pack is Paris Hilton, whose great-grandfather’s empire of eponymous hotels—and marriage to Zsa Zsa Gabor—garnered the family fortune and fame. Her sizzling sex tape, A Night in Paris, thrust her into the limelight, followed by the hit series The Simple Life—a reality version of Green Acres. The series transplanted the child of privilege from Beverly Hills to Arkansas. Since then, she has been the subject of public sightings tooling around Los Angeles in her custom Barbie-pink Bentley with a pink-clad pooch, performed court-mandated community service shod in Louboutin heels, narcissistically dated a Greek shipping magnate similarly named Paris, and posed on a magazine cover wearing nothing but her Calvin Klein briefs.

    Hilton’s rivals in the media glare are the British Ecclestone sisters, Tamara and Petra. Apparently, when the weaving sisters sit at their loom, they do not follow the pattern all men are created equal. The girls are the recipient of a genetic lottery as they favor their Amazonian mother, Croatian model Slavica, and are the heiresses of their billionaire father, Formula One’s Bernie. The leggy girls can leave any Tinsel Town star in the economic dust. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Eliza Doolittle who sang, All I want is a room somewhere / Far away from the cold night air… Petra is the owner of the former Spelling Los Angeles mansion, the Manor, which bore a price tag of eighty-five million dollars. As it would not do to adorn its walls with velvet art, she purchased one of Britain’s cultural treasures, a seventeenth-century, twenty-million-dollar Van Dyke. Tamara’s well-heeled London neighbors are Prince William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge. And while the Bond novel is entitled From Russia with Love, hailing from the former Communist heartland is Ekaterina Rybolovleva, whose daddy gifted her a slice of real estate that would make even a Gossip Girl gasp: an eighty-eight-million-dollar Manhattan penthouse as her crash pad while attending an American university. After all, dorm life is not for everyone. Another heiress who eschewed living in residence halls is Liesel Pritzker of the Hyatt Hotel dynasty, best known for her feature role in the 1995 film The Little Princess. Her memorable quotation as Sara Crewe went, I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they dress in rags, even if they aren’t pretty, or smart, or young. They’re still princesses, all of us. The $560 million award she garnered in settlement from suing her father allowed her to purchase a $2.25 million condo near her Columbia University's campus. She explained to The New York Times, I figured that it would make more sense to buy. Obviously, princesses don’t rent. How far afield from these Xanadus are the homes that come replete with license plates. Billionaires dwell in a galaxy far, far away from those who conscientiously clip coupons, who are Boxing Day veterans, who are artful bill-collector dodgers. The rich cannot fathom standing with nose pressed against glass vistas, eying Tantalus’ grapes. To once more borrow the words of the Cockney flower-girl regarding the set-for-life folk, Wouldn’t it be loverly?

    If it is true that we are shaped by our favorite childhood protagonists, perhaps one can, albeit tongue in cheek, point the finger of blame for heiresses’ narcissism on Eloise, circa 1949, the original fictional poor little rich girl. The Plaza Hotel born and bred child had a fabulously wealthy mother, one not keen on maternal proximity, who happened to be friends with Coco Chanel. Eloise was under the care of an infinitely patient British nanny to whom her AWOL parent furnished useful lines of credit. Charge it, please! may have been Eloise’s first words. She spends her days wreaking havoc in the august Plaza; her mantra, Getting bored is not allowed. When her mother’s lawyer comes to call, she feeds him rubber turtles for which he rewards her with an indulgent smile. No matter how poorly she acts, in her tsoris-free childhood, there is always room service. Eloise’s enduring appeal is she is based on the fantasies of children: endless money, freedom from parents, adults as servants, not masters. The classic book must have served as the blueprint of bottomless entitlement for daughters of privilege and created unrealistic notions for those hailing from small-town, middle-class stations. A far more authentic rendition is the classic children’s book character Madeline, who lives in a Catholic boarding school in Paris with eleven roommates and only becomes distinguishable when she succumbs to an attack of acute appendicitis.

    The Wizard of Omaha and modern alchemist Warren Buffet coined the phrase, the lucky sperm club to denote the well-heeled who either by birth or by marriage brandish open-sesame-gold credit cards. One would assume that belonging to a club with the word lucky in its name would be something about which to brag; however, this situation does not always prove true. Buffet understands the danger of wealth—fortunes made from the sweat of another’s brow—and vowed his children would not be the sole recipients of his fortune. He stated the perfect amount to leave one’s heirs is enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing. Excess can be a motivation buster and leave one with a sense of psychological impotence. Buffet, the financial Solomon, is the possessor of insight to which other fabulously wealthy fathers should have been privy. Inherited fortunes are not always loverly.

    One well-intentioned papa was Frank W. Woolworth, who made his billions on an empire founded on nickel-and-dime store chains. He worked almost every day of his sixty-six years; his granddaughter, Barbara, never troubled herself with gainful employment. She lived by the mindset of if you got it, flaunt it, and flaunt it she did: on mansions and men. As it transpired, the richest woman in the world was one of the unhappiest, and as a result, she self-medicated with the Band-Aids of alcohol and drugs. Part of the problem for heiresses is the biblical injunction, To whom much has been given, from him much is expected, a heavy mantle for anyone to shoulder, especially those born in a silken swath of entitlement.

    The aphorism necessity is the mother of invention naturally gives rise to the corollary that too much wealth is a breeding ground for non-productivity. Unemployment—whether it entails standing in a welfare line or rattling around in a palazzo—is the anti-salve for the soul. The devil’s work for these idle hands is often alcohol and drugs—crutches for banishing ennui. As Fitzgerald, the balladeer of Jazz Age indulgence, and no flincher from the glass himself, wrote, In the morning after you were never violently sorry—you made no resolutions, but if you had overdone it and your heart was slightly out of order, you went on the wagon for a few days without saying anything about it, and waited until an accumulation of boredom projected you into another party. Inheritors, especially members of third generation fortunes, become the ideal Petri dish for nourishing addiction. Mountains of money is the bait that encourages nibbles from the unsavory—the sycophants happy to muscle in on those with multi-digit bank accounts. Obsequious gigolos and foraging gold-diggers are not averse to riding shotgun in a Ferrari.

    Just as Helen of Troy’s beauty launched a thousand ships, those to the manor born—or wed—launch an avalanche of paparazzi lenses. What drives the powerful attraction between the ultra-rich and media scrutiny is the public hunger to peer through any chinks in the castle—to glimpse lives founded on the Bank of Mom and Dad or moneybag spouse. To satiate people’s desire to look into the lives of the rich, Robin Leach hosted Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous where he led drooling viewers on tours of gaudy and grand estates. Pre-Cribs, the show captured the public’s obsession with the world of the one percent, often nomadic jet-setters. Leach ended each episode with his trademark, Champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Post-teasing sign-off audiences were left with mouths agape—the night filled with gasps of can-such-things-be. Viewers, many of whose lives could be a reality show entitled Lifestyles of the Poor and the Desperate, were left not with a champagne aftertaste but one more akin to bile as they envisioned their morrows’ commute in crowded subways, noonday repasts served on trays, their only retirement death. Trying to keep one’s head above the water, to borrow from the last line of The Great Gatsby, So we beat on, boats against the current…

    A reality series for those who did not make a New Year’s resolution to watch television designed to exercise one’s intellectual IQ is The Real Housewives series, which showcases designer-dressed domestic divas in gated communities who have model-worthy bodies and whose faces attest to the prowess of plastic surgeons. They have traveled far from Roseanne, a far more familiar figure to those who borrow from Peter to give to Paul. Rich Kids of Beverly Hills is another show that affords a peephole through which to ogle the trust fund tribe. The program’s camera followed five of these twenty-somethings as they offered insightful nuggets such as the truly rich do not only sip Dom Perignon, but wash their hair in the bubbly. Who knew? Watching them frolic through their responsibility-free lives makes one nod in agreement with the comedienne Sophie Tucker who shared the autobiographical tidbit, I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.

    However, a nod to the collater